Tag Archives: Ancient Greek Theatre

Day 6 The Sites and Sights of Epidavros


Last year when I was here, I only got to the big Ancient Ampitheatre, so this year I’ve set out to specifically explore the Little Ancient Theatre and The Sanctuary of Asklepius. Hence the reason for staying in this little piece of paradise. This whole area is steeped in the myths and legends of antiquity which come to life in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes. The very gulf I am viewing as I write, has its own mythical origins and gods as do the surrounding mountains and plateaux. It is a very magical place. I keep looking out to sea for the dolphin that transported Arion, the creator of the first dithyrambs. image


Of course the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is the most famous theatre in the world and it originated in the mid 4 century BC as an adjunct to the Asklipieio to house the performances dedicated to Asklepius worship. The Asklipieio is a healing sanctuary and theatre dedicated to Asklepius (the god of the healing arts) was in itself regarded as a healing art form.

imageThe site is huge, the theatre alone which seats up to 14,000 people overlooks the valleys below and the sanctuary is an entire healing city perched on an acropolis high in the Peloponnese. Another of the healing arts is evidenced in the huge athletics stadium as well as the fountains, the bathhouse, the dormitory, the communal eating house, an infectious diseases sanitarium, temples to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, healing and death, and Themis, goddess of divine justice, order and customs, as well as to Asklepius and Apollo (god of music, healing, poetry and more.)

What a highly sophisticated expression of 4th and 3rd century human well being.

Sadly the natural history museum in the little village of Lygourio was closed by the time I arrived. It is reputed to have one of the finest collections of 3-5 million year old fossils from Greece and other parts of Europe. Once more I was interested in exploring how the minerals and other artefacts are represented in dramatic literature. There is so much to see and digest.

Finally (and I actually did this first, because it is just along the road from Hotel Hellini) there is the Small Theatre of Epidavros. Discovered as recently as 1971, with seating for up to 2000 people it was built in the 4th century BC in honour of Dionysis. It is considered yet another example of  th e Ancient Greek belief of the perfection in life and art: harmony, balance. During the Roman period the names of donors and officials were inscribed into the benches,giving rise to the term ‘talking  theatre’. A Roman statue unearthed near the small theatre in 2011, enlivens the notion of the continuation of Greek culture into the Roman period which is also present in the Asklipieio.



This was another big day fortified by ice cream by day and ouzo at night in the village where a local art and craft market occurs every weekend in July. Very beautiful artefacts as well as jams and olive oil and plants.

Another good day in this rural idyll.



Day 4 The Theatre of Apollo at Delphi


Today I utilized the knowledge and experience of a conducted tour, and as I had already seen the main Festival offering, Ibsen’s, An Enemy of the People, at the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival, I opted for a leisurely Greek taverna dinner with an Athenian friend in the evening.

The exceedingly well organized tour was headed by an exceptional guide who cheerfully imparted her wealth of historical, mythological and topical material. Leaving Athens, the bus took a 2 hr drive through its urban sprawl, fertile plains and seaports, into the dizzying heights of the mountains. Amongst the urban sprawl was the location of Marathon, the plains of Thebes, the Sanctuary of Olympia, the site of The Muses, and the Temple to Demeter, which is of great interest to me as it is the Temple associated with the Mysteries School.

In terms of Greek Theatre, David Wiles has devoted a good deal of scholarship to the notion of the significance of place. Indeed this was an element I engaged in my own Masters thesis in as much as a playwright will make reference to a place and by association, the audience will appreciate the deep meaning. Although associations of place had already been aroused in me, in view of actually passing through the places encountered in ancient literature, it is an area I would like to explore in my future studies of Greek drama texts.

The Temple of Apollo is located on Mount Parnassus. The extraordinary rugged beauty of the place in high summer belies its existence as a winter playground for cross country skiing and snowboarding and other snow activities I know nothing about!

Arriving at the Temple of Apollo, and passing through the agora, one is seemingly greeted by the imposing columns of the altar at the entrance to the temple, and at which, supposed sacrifices took place prior to performances in the theatre.
Theatre, according to one source, http://www.coastal.edu/ashes2art/delphi2/sanctuary/theatre.html, was a sacred act with the priest of the temple officiating. Actors were also sacred and highly revered, and from my observations, this attitude seems to persist amongst modern Greeks.
The ampitheatre, which seats 5000, is well preserved and overlooks the The Temple. As the patron of Delfi, Apollo is the god of light, music, poetry, healing, prophecy and more, and is the twin brother of Artemis, goddess of hunting.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo, gives an excellent account of Apollo’s duties as the Patron of Delphi/Delfi and also makes clear the positioning of Delphi as the navel of the world. Indeed the ancient ompholos is represented by a concrete replica on site with the supposed original ? or at least, another replica housed in the site museum.
Our guide explained that the site is exceptionally high in magnetic energy, which in turn, is associated with prophecy. I watched as a tourist carefully placed his hands on the concrete ompholos and I hope he was blessed with a suitable Delphic response.

When I asked the guide about contemporary use of the theatre, she informed me that several years ago, Vanessa Redgrave had performed Phaedre here. Wow! (even though it’s unsubstantiated.)

The visit to this site has revealed just how much more I want to learn about Ancient Greece. It is very inspirational. For my next trip, I intend to have expanded my knowledge and to have obtained a passable amount of basic Greek. For the most part, people working in museums and tourist places speak English, but everyone responds very well when you greet them with kalimera and acknowledge them with efpharisto.

Dinner in a back street taverna near Monastiraki was wonderful. Angela Makris ordered a wide range of local delicacies ranging from deep fried feta with honey and oregano, local salad, meatballs, and I can’t remember what else. Although I do remember the ouzo. I really enjoy the freshness and relative simplicity of Greek food and the taste of tomatoes and other salad vegetables is very different from Australian salad vegetables. Maybe Greek soil is magic!

Walking through the main streets of Athens at night was without incident and at no time have I felt unsafe.

Athens Day 3


ANTIGONE at the Benaki Museum

I have heard it said that many theatre lovers become despondent when the Ancient Greek classics are reinterpreted. And despite my desire to also see a grand chorus and Tiresius making his sightless entrance, this production, with just 6 actors sans Tiresius, was a well executed representation of societal limitation. The architecture of the museum Atrium was intrinsic to this notion with floor to ceiling glass window frames boxing the frustrations of each of the characters. The grand chorus was a one – woman tour de force. Antigone was lithe and athletic in her earthy despair while Ismene was a tall, detached vision of loveliness in blue. Kreon, was huge in stature and in his delivery. For me, subtlety is always a winner but the audience seemed to enjoy his expansive gesture and vocal delivery. My handy ipad with the English text was not a success on this occasion as I had few pointers to connect to within the adaptation. Once again the audience appreciation was vast and it is apparent how greatly culture is revered in Greece. Indeed the Festival Director, in his opening gambit, suggests how culture eases hardship and reignites qualities of hope and beauty. He also comments on the deliberate choice to focus his festival on Greek content with Greek performers. Selfishly this pleased me enormously. The day was spent making the acquaintance of a dentist. My first bite into a Greek apricot meet with resistance from a molar. Sadly for me, the apricot won. Dr Theodoros Papadakis was a delight. The surgery, an aesthetic feast of works of art and interior design and he just happens to have the same name as my Theodore. As a theatre lover himself he was immensely interested in this project and was curious to get my impression of the local cultural content and appreciation which in turn elicited my admiration and a query as to whether it was just because of the festival. Not so, he assured me and spoke of the excitement surrounding the upcoming all-male version of Medea. I, too , am greatly looking forward to it as the finale to the Athens leg of this journey.